Thursday, August 30, 2012

Recipe Pick: Best Summer Sides

The other night I was invited to a summer dinner party and was tasked to make two side dishes. I was pretty excited about my responsibility as I had recently come across an email from Food & Wine featuring best summer sides. I decided on the Warm Potato Salad with Arugula and a Napa Cabbage Salad and, to my delight, they were big hits. I pretty much followed the recipes to a tee for both dishes with the exception of the potato salad, to which I added sauteed prosciutto bits (I recommend this addition) and used baby red potatoes. What I like about this dish is that instead of boiling potatoes, you roast them on high heat and then toss with a dressing, prosciutto or bacon, and then fresh arugula, which eventually almost melts into the salad. The cabbage salad had a slight Asian flair and I found that the flavors infused the longer I let the dressing marinate the cabbage leaves.

For the main course, our host challenged us with grilling a whole piece of branzino. Thanks to Fresh Direct, the fish was gutted so it was easy to stuff the cavity with lemon and cilantro. Once the fish was generously greased with olive oil, we grilled the entire fish for several minutes on each side waiting for the skin to "give" before flipping. This was my first experience with grilling whole fish and it was quite pleasant (again, thanks to Fresh Direct). With just a little salt and pepper, this fish is healthful and quite flavorful. The only misstep made was accidentally dropping the grilled fish eyes into the grill. Oh well, there is always a next time! 

Stay tuned for the 100th anniversary post of Les Foodités. Coming soon!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Restaurant Review: Pasta Beach, Boston, MA

I have spent many memorable and fun-filled weekends in Boston over the summer. Often we stay with our very hospitable friends Pat and Katie, who reside in a lovely building that just happens to house a restaurant called Pasta Beach.

This particular Pasta Beach is a sister restaurant to the original location in Newport, RI. In all of my years of visiting and staying in Newport, I have never had the pleasure of dining there. Several of our friends have worked there and I've heard many claim that it’s “one of my favorite restaurants in Newport.”

Due to my frequent stays in Boston, I was hoping to find an opportunity to officially indulge in the restaurant. After two failed attempts (closed for a private party and miscommunication with friends), I lucked out with the third; a Sunday lunch. 

My suggestion would be to go after 12 noon, and don’t fiddle around with the brunch menu. It  is very limited, i.e., does not offer any salads or pastas. Once the clock strikes noon, you’re golden, as the menu opens up to a bevy of carbohydrate-filled items that your willpower won't resist and your taste buds will celebrate.

We ordered the Verde Mista, Bucatini Amatriciana (try saying that aloud), and a small Pepperoni Pizza.

My official rating after waiting all of these years? Pretty good.  Definitely not on the same tier as Babbo, but enjoyable and affordable nonetheless. The salad was basic, but I appreciated the generous portion and fancy arugula greens. The pasta was good as well. I find Bucatini Amatriciana to be a real crowd-pleaser: tube-shaped noodles, tomato sauce, and thick slabs of bacon, with sautéed onions. How can you go wrong? I would suggest adding a few dashes of red hot pepper flakes for a little kick. The pizza was tasty as well. It was baked in a brick oven, which is always a nice touch. My only complaint was the inner crust was slightly doughy for my taste. I’m not a fan of crust/tomato/cheese mush.

Would I go back? Yes, particularly because the wine list--which is chock full of Italian reds--looks like it may be one of the best draws. Now the decision: do I indulge in Boston or Newport? Tough choice, I know.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan

Many of you know that I love eggplant. I'll take eggplant in many forms: grilled, roasted, sautéed, and fried. It's one of my go-to dishes when dining out. Like Portobello mushrooms (another favorite), eggplant can be hearty but also a "light" entree choice and a great option if you're going vegetarian.  I tend to order eggplant outside of the home because I'm usually not successful in cooking this vegetable.  It takes awhile to "sweat" out the eggplant juices and then the pesky thing seems to just eat up all of my olive oil, somewhat ruining my healthy ideal of this veggie.  
On a recent Sunday, I decided to face my challenge and bake an Eggplant Parmesan. I scoured recipes and finally settled on the Cook's Illustrated version, knowing the publication is quite reputable in the food world (a yearly subscription costs about $35 a year).  Spoiler alert: It went quite well.

As I read the recipe, I immediately felt comforted because the introduction to the recipe is all about finding a lighter, fresher Eggplant Parmesan that still maintained that meaty quality--without frying. When sweating out the eggplant I used kosher salt. Once the eggplant had lost its excess water, I created dipping stations with flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese, and thoroughly coated the eggplant. Once the eggplants were coated, I drizzled with olive oil and baked the slices. Meanwhile, I prepared my own marinara sauce. (I went rogue and made up my own version.)  Once the sauce simmered for about 15 minutes and the eggplants were crispy, I assembled the ingredients in a baking dish, alternating sauce, eggplant, and fresh mozzarella, and finished with Parmesan and fresh basil on top. This meal was a huge hit. I plated the Eggplant Parmesan with some whole wheat pasta and made a simple Caesar salad. I would recommend this dish any time of the year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Upper West Side Eatery: Jacob's Pickles

It may be hard to think about eating huge portions of hot, Southern comfort food in this heat, but once you wait out the line, brush away your sweat, and get settled, the cuisine at the relatively-new New York City Upper West Side eatery Jacob's Pickles, is worth it. Jacob's Pickles is not for the weak of heart or diet-tempting eater, this is the real deal: buckets of grits, fried pickles and chicken, biscuits, collard greens, and more. 

I think one of my favorite dishes is the Chicken B.L.T., a "sandwich" (which is more like a platter) that is comprised of buttermilk fried chicken, Niman Ranch bacon, lettuce, fried green tomatoes, and house-made mayo heartily placed on a Southern biscuit. The "sandwich" comes with a heaping portion of cheese grits. This meal will blow your socks off. I love it because it has all of the goodies you want to consume in a comfort food joint; fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, biscuits, bacon, and grits all on one plate. Now I'm not the hugest fan of fried chicken, but this chicken is so tasty. The crispy fried crust has a great crunch and when your teeth hit the juicy meat, your mouth welcomes a subtle sweet and spicy flavor.  Also, despite being somewhat expensive ($15), this dish could easily serve two with leftovers to spare. 
Other dishes to try are the Fried Pickles with spicy red mayo, Homemade Meatballs with a pickled tomato compote (a special of the evening), and Shrimp and Bacon grits.  Don't forget to top off your brunch or dinner with the Bloody B.L.T. comprised of peppercorn vodka, Niman Ranch bacon, and jalapeño pickled egg. If you're not into cocktails, there are plenty of beer options on tap and several wines poured out of a tap. 
On my last visit to Jacob's Pickles, I had the pleasure of meeting the actual Jacob, an unassuming charming restauranteur who went about politely introducing himself to customers. He's excited about the popularity of the restaurant, as he should be. Jacob's Pickles is a real hefty treat. Go hungry and ready to chow down. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Private Chef Gathering with Chef Lisa Pattman

I had the divine pleasure of recently meeting Chef Lisa Pattman for a private five course Italian dinner at my parents' home in Summit, NJ (thank you, Kels). Chef Pattman is a caterer and private chef who has been in the food business for more than 10 years.  Throughout her career, she has worked at the Food Network with chefs Mario Batali, Sara Moulton, and Emeril Lagasse to name a few. In the last few years, Chef Pattman has focused on her own catering and private chef business, where she attends dinner parties and teaches those lucky guests how to cook. She has recently been written up in the New York Times and featured on the Real Housewives of New Jersey. We were lucky to book Chef Pattman on her only available evening this summer.

Chef Pattman arrived promptly with her sous chef Esther. The pair could not have been more professional or fun. They quickly made themselves at home in my parents' kitchen and went to work giving us tricks of the trade and taking us through the different steps in each recipe.  The end result was a tasty five course sit down dinner paired with wine.

The menu was as follows:

- Orzo fagiole
- Mixed organic greens with candied pecans and shaved parmesan drizzled with a homemade vinaigrette (shallots, olive oil, sherry wine vinegar, and a secret ingredient--mayonnaise--used to emulsify the dressing)
- Farro mushroom risotto
- Osso bucco with beef (and delicious bone marrow to slurp)
- Homemade tiramisu

The evening was absolutely delicious. It was the perfect balance of hands on cooking mixed with the indulgence of being wined and dined in the comfort of your own home.  We were able to participate as we wanted and often helped prep the food and learned techniques, such as the proper way to hold a knife and the safe and effective way to chop an onion.

Here are a few other tricks of the trade that Chef Pattman had to offer:

- Never cook with salted butter, always use unsalted butter and taste as you go, adding more salt as needed
- When using any sort of broth, Chef Pattman recommends using low sodium so you can control the salt levels
- Chef Pattman suggests using a cracked pepper  mill when adding pepper as it has a fresher flavor than the already-cracked variety
- Try using farro for risotto instead of arborio rice, farro has more fiber and a nice nutty flavor
- When making soup ahead of time, add a rind of parmesan and let it sit in the soup for at least a day--it adds a nice flavor (anchovies and clam broth are nice additions as well)
- Always read a recipe all the way through--no one likes surprises

I would highly recommend hiring Chef Pattman for your next special dinner party. She and her team were professional, knowledgeable, and excellent chefs. Chef Pattman's fee is about $35-45 a person and includes food and clean up. Wine is not included, but Chef Pattman is happy to provide recommendations.